By Bill Heaney
Toe to toe in the chamber – the allegedy political lightweight Douglas Ross and the feisty First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Nicola Sturgeon blamed councils such as West Dunbartonshire for failing to deliver the cash.
She said: “This is an important issue for many businesses across the country. I said before Christmas, and I repeat today, that the Scottish Government, in partnership with local authorities, which are responsible for administering the significant bulk of the funding that we have made available, is working to get that money to businesses as quickly as possible.
“As I am sure that everybody will accept—including, I hope, Douglas Ross—there are some checks that councils have to make to guard against fraud and any businesses trying to claim money that they are not entitled to. I am not suggesting that many would do that. That process is on-going.
“For the hospitality strand, for example, businesses that previously got support have been contacted, or the vast bulk of them have been contacted. They have been asked to complete a declaration, and then money will start to flow when those declarations have been returned.
“I know that many councils are in the process of making the payments. The nightclub closure fund, on which I know there has been commentary this week, is also open for applications. Nightclubs are being asked to submit an application. As soon as they do so—within days—money will be allocated to them.
“This is an on-going process, but everybody is working hard to get the money into the bank accounts of businesses as quickly as possible.
Douglas Ross replied: “Apparently, this is an important issue, yet she could not tell us how many businesses in Scotland have received the funding and how many are still waiting. She stood in this chamber and promised to do everything possible to deliver the funding before Christmas.
“Here we are in the middle of January and businesses are telling us that the process is going at a snail’s pace, but the First Minister somehow defends it or blames councils for not acting quickly enough.
“The responsibility is on the Scottish Government. The Scottish National Party added the restrictions in Scotland, which have impacted businesses, but it has not delivered the funding. A business group here in Scotland said yesterday:
“not a single penny of the funding we were promised before Christmas has reached businesses”.
Now, a month after the funding was announced, John Swinney has come forward to say that it is
“difficult to give a precise timescale” for when the money will be paid.
He added: “This has happened time and again during the pandemic. The SNP is quick to demand more funding from the United Kingdom Government but very slow to get it out to the businesses that need it. Is a month-long wait for this vital funding really good enough for our businesses?”
The First Minister jabbed: “At least under an SNP Government, money is being allocated to businesses and will get to them. Under a Tory Government, money is not getting to businesses at all.
“I am sure that, if either central Government or local government was to disburse money without basic checks to guard against fraud, for example, Douglas Ross would be one of the first to get to his feet and complain about that as well.
“The nightclub closure fund, for example, is open for applications. Businesses that have previously received support are being contacted and asked to complete their application, and then payment will be made within a matter of days once that application has been received.
“With the hospitality fund, for example, businesses are being asked only to complete a declaration, not to submit a new application. Businesses are being proactively contacted and councils are starting now—some have already started and some are starting today—to pay that money. I am not criticising councils. I know how hard and how quickly they are working to get that money out of the door.
“I come back to the point that we all want this to be done as quickly as possible but, although businesses in every part of the United Kingdom are suffering some of the same impacts of Covid, in Scotland they will be getting financial support that businesses are not getting south of the border, where the Conservatives are in government.”
Douglas Ross counter-punched: “Businesses in other parts of the United Kingdom were not shut down in the same way that they were shut down by Nicola Sturgeon.
“We all remember her Public Health Scotland telling people not to go to Christmas parties, and the First Minister went on television the next day to confirm that.
“That is why funding is required here in Scotland, and that is why it was required in December, not the middle of January.”